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More Information on Diarrhea

digestive systemDiarrhea is frequent, loose, and watery bowel movements. Bowel movements, also called stools, are body wastes passed through the rectum and anus. Stools contain what is left after your digestive system absorbs nutrients and fluids from what you eat and drink. If your body does not absorb the fluids, or if your digestive system produces extra fluids, stools will be loose and watery. Loose stools contain more water, salts, and minerals and weigh more than solid stools.

Although usually not harmful, diarrhea can become dangerous or signal a more serious problem. You should talk to your doctor if you have a strong pain in your abdomen or rectum, a fever, blood in your stools, severe diarrhea for more than 3-days or symptoms of dehydration. If your child has diarrhea, do not hesitate to call the doctor for advice. Diarrhea can be dangerous in children.

Diarrhea that lasts a short time is called acute diarrhea. Acute diarrhea is a common problem and usually lasts only 1 or 2 days, but it may last longer. Diarrhea that lasts for at least 4 weeks is called chronic diarrhea. Chronic diarrhea symptoms may be continual or they may come and go.

What causes Diarrhea?

Causes of Diarrhea include the following:

Sometimes no cause can be found. As long as diarrhea goes away within 1 to 2 days, finding the cause is not usually necessary.

What other Symptoms can you have with Diarrhea?

In addition to passing frequent, loose stools, other possible symptoms include:

You may feel sick to your stomach or become dehydrated. If a virus or bacteria is the cause of your diarrhea, you may have fever and chills and bloody stools.


Being dehydrated means your body does not have enough fluid to work properly. Every time you have a bowel movement, you lose fluids. Diarrhea causes you to lose even more fluids. You also lose salts and minerals such as sodium, chloride, and potassium. These salts and minerals affect the amount of water that stays in your body.

Dehydration can be serious, especially for children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems.

Signs of dehydration in adults are: crying infantSigns of dehydration in babies and young children are:

Also, when people are dehydrated, their skin does not flatten back to normal right away after being gently pinched and released.

When should you see a Health Care Provider for Diarrhea?

You should see a health care provider if you have any of the following symptoms:

Diarrhea often goes away by itself, but it may be a sign of a more serious problem.

When to take a Child to a Health Care Provider for Diarrhea?

woman holding an infant and talking on doctorTake your child to a health care provider right away if your child has any of the following symptoms:

Children with diarrhea become dehydrated much more easily than adults. Getting treatment quickly is most important if your baby is 6 months old or younger.

How is Diarrhea Diagnosed?

To find the cause of diarrhea, the health care provider may

If you have chronic diarrhea, your health care provider may perform other tests to look for signs of disease.